27 January 2006
Monitoring Body for Women's Anti-Discrimination Convention Takes up Report of Venezuela
Experts Commend New Constitution, Quotas for Political Participation; Express Concern about High Poverty, Prostitution, Violence against Women
NEW YORK, 26 January (UN Headquarters) -- Commending Venezuela's political will and numerous initiatives to promote gender equality, members of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women encouraged the Government to continue its efforts to bridge the gap between the country's lofty revolutionary ideas and such realities on the ground as poverty, violence against women and strong sexist stereotypes.
The monitoring body of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women considered Venezuela's fourth through sixth periodic reports in two meetings today. The country ratified the Convention in 1983 and its Optional Protocol in 2002.
Under the Protocol, the Committee can consider complaints regarding violations of rights protected under the Convention and initiate inquiries into situations of grave or systematic violations of women's rights. While welcoming the ratification of this instrument by Venezuela, one of the experts insisted that it needed to be widely publicized so that women were aware of their rights. Steps were also needed to protect those who wanted to initiate a complaint under the Protocol.
Venezuela's report states that its peaceful Bolivarian Revolution, which started with the election of Hugo Chavez Frias as its President in 1998, seeks "to establish a democratic, participatory and self-reliant, multi-ethnic and multicultural society in a just, federal and decentralized State". The Bolivarian process promotes popular participation and integration of all sectors of society previously excluded, especially women. However, as any revolutionary process, it faces imperialistic aggression and "manipulation of monopolized mass media", which seeks to "deceive people in order to revert the great achievements of the Revolution".
The President of Venezuela's National Institute for Women, Maria Leon, who introduced the report, told the Committee that the Government's efforts are hindered by "organized terrorism" against its institutions and people, threats of genocide and attacks against the credibility of Venezuela's institutional and electoral system. She also mentioned an attempted coup d'état in April 2002 and serious economic losses as a result of an oil strike in December 2002-February 2003. That sabotage was possible, because the country's oil industry was in transnational hands, she said.
Among the country's accomplishments, country representatives listed introduction of quotas for the participation of women in political life and successful education and literacy programmes. A delegate said that health services were being offered, jobs created, food security and sovereignty enhanced, and cultural identity restored. Some 63 per cent of the beneficiaries of the educational and jobs creation efforts were women, who were organized into cooperatives receiving financial support from the public financial system.
Commenting on the "radical changes" that had taken place in Venezuela in recent years, one expert called them "a breath of fresh air", particularly commending the country's new Constitution, which incorporated a gender perspective and non-sexist language throughout its entirety, the law on equal opportunities and increased presence of women in positions of power.
While welcoming those developments, however, many of the Committee's experts expressed concern about high levels of poverty, the spread of domestic violence and prostitution. An expert said that, according to recent reports, the rate of poverty in Venezuela was not dropping, but growing. Some 61 per cent of the country's population (about 14.5 million people) still could not satisfy their basic nutritional needs, and 7.3 million people were in extreme poverty. From 1995 to 2002, the number of female-headed households had grown by 14 per cent, reaching over 1.2 million.
Another expert pointed out that violence against women was often not immediately visible. Traditional stereotypes were tremendously strong, and the principle of non-interference in domestic affairs was still deep-rooted in Latin America. More attention should be paid to investigating complaints and introducing registries of cases in health care and educational institutions. Both men and women needed to be involved in the anti-violence efforts.
Revolution was about shifting the focus to human dignity, and prostitution, which looked at human being as objects, was in sharp contrast to that notion, another member of the Committee stressed. The country's rhetoric should include a commitment to end prostitution. Was there any possibility for a stronger political and social commitment in that direction?
The dialogue also focused on the situation of indigenous women and women of African descent. In that connection, a country representative cited a programme that focused on the aboriginal population, which consists of about 500,000 people in six states.
On poverty, the delegation reported that the Government had established a strategy -- similar to that of the Millennium Goals -- to halve extreme poverty by 2015 and completely eradicate it by 2021. Regarding violence against women, the delegates said that the country had held 1,568 workshops attended by some 500,000 women in various locales, with governmental, as well as non-governmental, organizations. The law on Violence against Women and the Family addressed measures to save women victims of violence, types of violence, and penalties to aggressors. A free emergency line had been set up, and three shelters had opened for victims.
The Committee will take up Australia's reports at 10 a.m. Monday, 30 January.
Before the Committee was Venezuela's combined fourth, fifth and sixth periodic reports (CEDAW/C/VEN/4-6) on implementation of the Convention. The country ratified the Convention in 1983 and the Optional Protocol in 2002. The report reviews progress in such areas as legislation, national bodies and strategies, discrimination and sex stereotyping, political representation, education, employment, health, and rural women.
According to the report, Venezuela's new Constitution (approved in 1999) established equal gender rights in all spheres of life, recognized women as full citizens, and used non-sexist language throughout. Among specific legislation to promote gender equality, the reformed 1982 Civil Code steers the country away from the patriarchal family unit, eliminating the authority of a husband over his wife. The 1993 Equal Opportunities for Women Act provides for employment equity, and the Violence against Women and the 1999 Family Act makes violence against women and the family a crime.
In implementing such legislation, the legal arm of the National Institute for Women -- the National Office for the Defence of Women's Rights -- handled 11,456 cases of violence against women between 2000 and 2003. It also supported, between 2001 and 2004, the creation of 26 women's shelters, seven regional institutes, 12 offices of women's affairs, three municipal women's institutes, and a comprehensive care centre. The National Plan for Prevention of Violence against Women and Care of Its Victims assisted 34 women and 77 children in 2002, and 45 women and 82 children in 2003, to access psychological guidance, legal care, medical facilities, Government Attorney's offices, police centres and training, and performed follow-up on women and children who had left shelters.
Addressing sex stereotyping, the report notes that discriminatory and sex stereotypes persist in the private sphere, especially the media, appearing in soap operas, news reports, commercials, and discussion programmes. To counter such practices, the National Institute for Women has been running a segment on State television devoted to gender equity discussions, non-discrimination and prevention of violence against women. Column space in newspapers covering Institute information has also been increasing, as have television programmes emphasizing prevention of violence against women and care of victims, as well as sexual and reproductive rights.
In the political area, the report observes that an average of four female ministers in of a total 15 ministries have served in the country since 2002 -- double that of the previous period. A woman was appointed Permanent Representative of Venezuela to the United Nations and the World Trade Organization in 2002, and 46.4 per cent of diplomatic posts in the country are held by women. In 2004, some 25 women served as ambassadors and chargés d'affaires.
Despite those figures, female study for careers and specialties is hindered by family stereotypes, attitudes and opportunities for study locally, regionally and nationally, the report notes. Statistics for 1998-1999 show that young adolescent women tend to enter humanities-related and commercial careers, with few going into industrial sectors. Moreover, a study of school texts has shown that language, images and values reflect discriminatory attitudes towards women, reinforcing their social subordination. A second phase of the country's Education for Equality programme has been implemented to incorporate gender equity into school texts and other educational materials.
Although women's participation in Venezuela's labour force rose from 33.8 per cent in 1990 to 37.5 per cent in 2001, the rate is still low, suggesting social conditions favouring men's access to work over women. In 2002, the country had an unemployment rate of 15 per cent; 17.2 per cent of women were unemployed, while 13.6 per cent of men. The socio-economic crisis in recent decades has halted productive activity and significantly increased unemployment levels, with women making up one of the groups to have suffered most.
Women as household heads is common in poorer populations, with women working excessive time for the minimum income needed to maintain a family. Care of children limits opportunities open to them, and the high number of children in these households keeps many women out of the workforce. In an effort to slow down impoverishment, the Government has brought in a series of social equity and equality measures, including creation of the Power to the People Bank, which grants micro-loans to male and female micro-entrepreneurs. It has also created the Women's Development Bank, which approved some 40,000 loans between 2001 and 2004, and the Microfinance Fund, which granted 3,234 loans to women between 2001 and 2003, resulting in 5,775 direct and 10,895 indirect jobs.
As for health, the report notes that the rate of maternal mortality (per 100,000 live births) dropped from 66.7 in 1995 to 51 in 1998, but had risen to 68 by 2002. The increase was due to weaker family planning services in the country; a lack of sensitivity and poor quality in services; low quality care; and a lack of capacity to respond to obstetric emergencies. With infant mortality also high, at 17.1 per 1,000 in 2000, the Ministry of Health and Social Development has been promoting maternal breastfeeding; antenatal monitoring; family planning; prevention of adolescent pregnancy; newborn care; and community strategies.
The country's new Constitution enshrines sexual and reproductive rights, covering the right to obtain responsible sexual education, sexual and reproductive health services and accurate information on the topic in an effort to prevent abortion (rated as the third most common cause of maternal death in the country) and lower rates of female mortality. With clandestine abortions increasing due to women's lack of adequate access to family planning and reproductive health services, the National Plan of Action on Sexual and Reproductive Health, begun in 2000, has been working to strengthen family planning services and provide contraceptives, which increased family planning coverage to 43 per cent by 2000.
Regarding rural women, the report observes that they traditionally face discrimination and marginalization due to cultural patterns and poverty, which often prevents them from participating in a wider life pattern. According to the Constitution, rural people may not be displaced from any idle or uncultivated land they occupy without due administrative process by the National Land Institute. The Federal Office for Agrarian Affairs has decided to encourage women to participate in saving the family vegetable garden, especially its capacity to provide products for those working it.
In conclusion, the report outlines several restrictions Venezuelan women face in achieving rights laid down in the Convention. These include a lack of preparation for public officials on the gender approach; difficulties in obtaining cooperation from public bodies; problems in enforcing labour laws in private companies; lack of knowledge in some women of the legal framework covering them; and lack of social indicators broken down by sex, which impedes further analysis.
Introduction of Reports
MARIA LEON, President of Venezuela's National Institute for Women (INAMUJER), introducing the country's report, noted that its new Constitution proclaimed women's domestic work to be an economic activity producing wealth and social welfare, and that all people were equal before the law. It had also established social and family rights, and had asserted that women heads of households would have preferential rights in the awarding of land parcels, and receive pregnancy allowances.
As for institutions promoting women's rights, the National Institute for Women was created in 1999 and the Women's Development Bank in 2001, she said. In 2005, the National Institute of Statistics created a subcommittee on gender statistics, and President Hugo Chavez approved a national public budget considering gender equity. A National Electoral Council resolution in 2005 approved a 50/50 gender ratio for political representation, which had increased the percentage of women deputies in the National Assembly from 10 per cent to 25 per cent.
In overcoming poverty, she said the country had focused on employment, especially in the area of micro-enterprises and microcredit. To those ends, the Bank of the Sovereign People, and the Women's Development Bank, and the Microfinancial Development Fund had been opened, offering credit lines to small businesses.
The "missions" of the Bolivarian Revolution -- huge campaigns directed at improving various sectors of life -- included literacy and education programmes, which had freed the country from illiteracy by 2005, she said. Thanks to the missions, education became universal at all levels, health services were offered, jobs were created, food security and sovereignty were enhanced, and cultural identity was restored. Some 63 per cent of the beneficiaries of the educational and jobs creation mission were women, who were organized into cooperatives receiving financial support from the public financial system.
She added that the Guaicaipuro Mission was set up as a special campaign focused on the aboriginal population, which consists of about 500,000 people in six states. That population now has representatives at the National Assembly who have promoted laws to benefit indigenous peoples, and have also worked on the policy of Territorial Demarcation.
Regarding violence against women, the country had held 1,568 workshops attended by some 500,000 women in various locales, with governmental, as well as non-governmental, organizations, she said. The law on Violence against Women and the Family addressed measures to save women victims of violence, types of violence, and penalties to aggressors. A free emergency line has been set up, and three shelters had opened for women whose lives were in danger due to violence.
The Government was also concerned with trafficking, particularly of girls, boys and women, as well as prostitution, she said. More job opportunities, education training, employment and a better quality of life, and strong cultural identity were needed to eliminate the origin of that social phenomenon. The Ministry of the Interior and Justice, along with the Women's Institute, had developed a communications programme to deal with the problem.
Experts' Comments and Questions
Opening the dialogue with the delegation, CORNELIS FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, congratulated the country for ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention and asked what measures had been taken to make that instrument widely known to the people of Venezuela. He also wanted to know what measures were envisioned to make sure that women would not be subjected to ill-treatment if they contacted the Committee with their grievances, as provided for in the Protocol. He was asking that question because, according to some sources of information, people were sometimes persecuted for dissent with the Government, and several women had been mistreated, and even died, after having participated in demonstrations, for example.
He was pleased to note that the National Office for the Defence of Women's Rights was dealing with complaints on violations of women's rights, he continued. He would appreciate receiving updated information on such cases. Did women receive legal aid in such cases? What was the mandate of the Institute to decide on the cases and what was the legal status of its decisions? Were there court cases where the provisions of the Convention had been used?
He added that the Committee was always concerned about the use of the term "equity" instead of "equality". For that reason, he was intrigued that both terms were used side by side in the country's Constitution. He wanted to know about the Government's interpretation of both terms.
MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, congratulated the Government for its efforts on many fronts, although some problems still persisted. Her questions related to the non-governmental organization participation in the efforts for gender equality and formal channels of cooperation between the Government and civil society. The report also mentioned that to enable cooperation with non-governmental organizations, those organizations had to be registered with the Institute. She wanted to know about that procedure.
Like Mr. Flinterman, she was also concerned about the indiscriminate use of the terms "equity" and "equality". While welcoming the introduction of various national plans and programmes, she said that it was necessary to elaborate a coordinated and uniform strategy that would avoid duplication and promote an integrated approach to gender issues.
MAGALYS AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, said that members of the Committee were aware of the difficulties encountered by the country, which affected the policies it was carrying out. In 1997, the Committee had made recommendations on strengthening the national mechanisms involved in the implementation of the Convention in Venezuela, and she wondered what had been done in that regard. According to some sources, some of the current national mechanisms seemed to have actually become weaker. Also, recently, the Institute had become an autonomous entity within the Ministry of Popular Participation -- was there an intention to create an independent ministry on gender issues?
HANNA BEATE SCHOPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, commended the Government's political will to speed up fulfilment of women's enjoyment of their rights. However, she was concerned about the concept of human rights as it had been presented today. There should be no distinction between human and women's rights. There also seemed to be confusion with regard to the temporary special measures. Some of the efforts described in the report actually related to general policies for the advancement of women and not to temporary special measures as they were understood in the Convention. Confusion on the concept might have played a role in the 1997 decision not to introduce quotas. She was glad that some quotas had now been introduced, although, so far, they had not led to the desired results.
VICTORIA POPESCU, expert from Romania, addressed the issues of stereotypes and the situation of indigenous women and women of African descent. The Committee had identified those as the leading factors leading to discrimination in Venezuela, recommending adoption of comprehensive programmes to address that issue. Significant steps had been made with respect to the legislation, and she applauded introduction of non-sexist language there. A series of programmes had also been undertaken to sensitize the media and in the area of education. However, the report did not contain an evaluation of the impact of the measures undertaken, so far. There was no assessment of the progress achieved.
She went on to say that, while an act on social responsibility in radio and television had been introduced in the country, so far, there had been no complaints under that instrument, and the procedure pertaining to that act was very sophisticated. Did Venezuela have any intention to facilitate that process and introduce a clear system of penalties for violations of the act? What had been done to encourage a proactive approach to the promotion of a positive image of women? She also asked for an evaluation of the country's efforts to mainstream a gender perspective in school curricula and books. Another question concerned the efforts to promote a professional orientation for girls in non-traditional occupations. She also asked about the situation of indigenous women.
SILVIA PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, recognized the country's efforts to place women on an equal footing and said that the purpose of the Committee's dialogue with States parties was to learn from each other. Thus, she wanted to register a few concerns, especially as far as violence against women was concerned. Many countries were aware of the problem, which was often not immediately visible. Traditional stereotypes were tremendously strong, and the principle of non-interference in domestic affairs was still deep-rooted in Latin America. From the report, it seemed that more attention should be paid to investigating complaints and introducing registries of cases in health care and educational institutions, for example. As domestic violence was often not reported to the police, such registries could serve to detect such incidents. Both men and women needed to be involved in the efforts to combat violence against women.
She had also been shocked by the fact that, according to the report, prostitution and trafficking did not seem to be a major social problem in Venezuela. She took issue with that statement, because prostitution and trafficking represented a massive problem, and concrete issues had been demonstrated in the country's responses to the pre-session working group's questions. Greater efforts should be made to address that problem.
Members of the Venezuelan delegation responding to experts' questions included: Ms. Leon, President of the National Institute for Women; Yolanda Jaimes, Magistrate of the Supreme Court of Justice; Imeria Nuñez de Odreman, Eleyda Garcia-Matos and Raquel Escobar Gomez, of the Permanent Mission of Venezuela to the United Nations; Nora Castañeda, President of the Women's Development Bank; Maria del Mar Alvarez, Reina Arratia, Doris Acevedo and Ana Elisa Osorio of the Institute; Ziomara Lucena, of the Ministry for Education; Maria Esperanza Martinez of the Ministry of Health and Social Development; Maria Auziliadora Monagas and Betzabeth Borrego Bermudez of the Foreign Ministry; and Francis de Saab, of the Ministry of External Relations.
Addressing implementation of the Optional Protocol to the Convention, a delegation member pointed out that the country had an Ombudsman, People's Defender and Women's Defender. The Constitution gave legal status to all international agreements the country had ratified.
Another speaker added that human rights treaties in the country had the same status as the Constitution, and were integrated into the so-called "Constitutional Block". The country attempted to inform all women about international human rights treaties, and the Convention had actually appeared before the courts. Hundreds of editions of the Constitution had been issued, and every effort had been made to promote awareness of it. There had been workshops held on human rights for court personnel, and a brochure had been produced on efforts to eliminate discrimination against women.
Responding to the query on equal opportunity laws, a delegate said the National Institute for Women was the governing body for policies on women's equity. The Institute promoted establishment of regional and municipal institutes for women, and government officials were directly involved in drawing up gender policies. There was agreement with the National Statistics Committee to disaggregate statistics by gender. With the Ministry of Health, the Institute was working to develop programmes on reproductive health, which should be applied throughout the country.
To a question on the National Prosecutor, another speaker said a communiqué had been issued to inform people about establishment in every state of at least one prosecutor with competence in inter-family violence. As for national customs, women could give birth according to their traditional customs and culture, and were provided with their basic needs.
Addressing human rights violations, a delegate stressed the country had absolute respect for the human rights of its citizens, and that legal procedures would be followed in the event of an alleged violation. However, there had been no concrete reports of human rights violations in the country.
Regarding legal channels between non-governmental organizations and authorities, she added that all non-governmental organizations in the country were allowed to register, and were respected and heeded. Thirteen states had defenders for women's rights, and all reports of physical violence or rape were sent to the forensic service. In 2005, the country had organized a commission to review the violence against women law, with the aim of strengthening it. The new draft bill should be completed by March of this year.
Another member of the delegation addressed the issue of equality and equity, saying that there was an ongoing debate on the meaning of those terms for the women's movement. In Venezuela's central university, some were in favour of "equity" and others were leaning towards "equality". "Yes, we are equal", she said, but the needs of an indigenous person in the jungle were not the same as those of a woman in the capital, so it might be correct to speak about equality within diversity. The debate must continue. The theory and practice should go hand in hand.
A member of the delegation said that at the beginning of last year, over 4,000 health-care officials had received training on the issues of sexual and reproductive health. The Government had a policy of affirmative action towards indigenous people. They benefited from special health programmes, and bilingual services were provided in the areas of health and education. Massive vaccination campaigns had been undertaken and, for some years now, the level of mortality from preventable diseases had been falling. Efforts were also being made to prevent illiteracy. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) had proclaimed Venezuela a country free from illiteracy and that applied to indigenous people, as well.
Responding to Mr. Flinterman's questions, a delegate said that Venezuela's signing of the Optional Protocol had been broadly publicized in the media and through the bulletins for the promotion of women. There were also plans to publish the Optional Protocol. In Venezuela, there was no ill-treatment of those who claimed their rights. There was full freedom of expression, and the Government insisted on full and democratic participation of all citizens. As for the preparation of the report, it had been drafted with participation from non-governmental organizations, State institutions and individuals who volunteered information.
On stereotypes, she said that school curricula were currently being reviewed to bring them in line with the Constitution. Efforts were also being made to educate the population and deconstruct the discriminating attitudes. The majority of the population were not blue-eyed or blond, but such an image had prevailed in the past as a "desirable" one. Efforts were being made to address that issue. A Presidential Commission had been set up to deal with discrimination against indigenous people and people of African origin. Its activities were designed to deconstruct the discriminatory attitudes that prevailed in the country. As a black woman, she herself had been subjected to discrimination, when a woman at a meeting told her that she could not take a particular seat because of her skin colour.
The new Constitution contained important changes in the political and administrative structure of the country. In the new National Assembly, the Parliamentary Commission on Women's Rights had been replaced with a Standing Commission, whose three subcommissions dealt with the family and children, development of women and the youth. On 5 January, the New Parliament had been seated, with 25 per cent women -- the number unheard of in Venezuela. That gave her hope that the draft legislation protecting women's rights would receive appropriate attention. However, some laws containing sexist terms and provisions still existed in the country, and it was important to continue work to change them.
Another delegate said UNESCO had declared the country free of illiteracy, and that the high rate of illiteracy among African and indigenous had been resolved.
To another query, a speaker noted that the "punishment" for negative messages about women's equality in the past would be the new influx of positive messages. The country had made much progress sending messages about women's equality via the media, reaching the most remote areas.
KRISZTINA MORVAI, expert from Hungary, stressed that combating the sexual exploitation of women should have a more central role in Venezuela. Revolution was about shifting the focus to human dignity, and prostitution, which looked at human being as objects, was in sharp contrast to that notion. The country's rhetoric should include a commitment to end prostitution. Was there any possibility for a stronger political and social commitment in that direction?
FUMIK0 SAIGA, expert from Japan, asked whether the country's civil code had been completely changed, or simply amended. Also, what was the status of the 1937 penal code? Was it still in force, or had it been amended?
PRAMILA PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, asked what measures had been taken to improve women's access to the courts, whether women could obtain legal assistance, and if Afro-Venezuelan and rural women had access to the courts.
Ms. PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, asked whether the country had established a follow-up strategy for its literacy programme.
Addressing the literacy campaign, a delegation member noted that graduates of the literacy programme -- those who had received initial literacy training -- had reached the sixth grade.
To a query on poverty, another speaker said the country had established a strategy -- similar to that of the Millennium Goals -- to halve extreme poverty by 2015 and completely eradicate it by 2021. It was also working to reduce its unemployment rate, and decrease the number of people in the informal economy. In achieving those goals, it was necessary to provide people with education and training, create the needed infrastructure, and make funding available from public financing or in the form of microcredits.
The envisaged development, she added, would lead to territorial reform in Venezuela. Much of the poor were living in the mountains, and development there would increase its population, create decent jobs, and generally create better living conditions. Prostitution could be resolved through the alleviation of poverty, and the creation of better livelihoods.
Regarding the 1982 civil code, a delegate explained that it had been reformed with respect to gender equality by eliminating the marital power of the husband. The 1937 criminal code was now obsolete, although still active. A draft code with a gender perspective was currently being discussed, and should be presented to the country's National Assembly later this year.
Another delegate noted that Venezuela had significantly broadened its number of public defenders, so that people could obtain assistance to plead their cases in the courts.
MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, said that Venezuela had seen radical changes in recent times. The country's reports showed extraordinary progress since the election of the new President in 1999. Since he came to power, a new Constitution had been put in place, which did not discriminate on the basis of sex, religion and other factors and recognized equal rights of men and women in all areas. Based on participation, that instrument was an important achievement, which provided guarantees of human rights. The law on equal opportunity had been introduced. Women's real presence in positions of power had grown in recent years, in part through the introduction of quotas. That meant that progress had been made, and she encouraged the country to continue its fight against discrimination. She thanked the delegation for the breath of fresh air it had brought to the Committee today.
Mr. FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, asked about the requirements for non-governmental organizations to be registered before they could be allowed to participate in consultations with the Government. Had any non-governmental organizations, including women's organizations, been refused registration? Is there a possibility of appeal in case of rejection? Could a non-registered non-governmental organization still function in the country?
A delegation member said the women's movement had proclaimed the previous 30 per cent gender political participation law discriminatory, and the new Constitution had made it null and void. The Government had agreed to the 50 per cent quota, the National Electoral Council had accepted it, and women were now demanding that degree of participation.
Another speaker added that the 50 per cent election quota had considerably increased women's participation in Government, which had, in turn, helped to make the country more of a participatory democracy. Civil participation in public administration was a way of achieving greater development, both individually and collectively.
As for non-governmental organizations and violence against women, she said they registered with the National Institute for Women because it was the body that defended women against violence. If a non-governmental organization was not registered, it could also participate in cases of family violence, as outlined in the Constitution, but must be registered with the Institute to go to the court.
Other delegates noted that non-governmental organizations, under the law, were civil organizations, and that there must be a civil register at the national level where organizations could spell out their aims. It was not a requirement to register at the Institute, but was to the advantage of the non-governmental organization to do so. Registries were made available throughout the country.
FRANÇOISE GASPARD, expert from France, asked if women's political participation had increased to the same extent at the local as the national levels. She also suggested that it would be useful for the country to include statistics on gender in the administrative and the diplomatic worlds in its next report.
A delegation member said that women at local levels had direct representation in the National Assembly -- two representatives and one deputy -- and legislative bodies, which was a positive step forward for many communities. The country was publicizing the 50 per cent quota, and working with women as well as political organization, to ensure that that level of representation would be met.
Women's participation in regional councils was considerable, another speaker said. That participation was important, because councils were the bodies that regulated protection for girls and teenagers, and also worked against child prostitution.
Ms. POPESCU, expert from Romania, wanted to know if gender aspects were taken into account in drafting the law on indigenous people. She also raised several issues in connection with the situation of Venezuelan adolescents. Female adolescents were still more prone to drop out of school than boys, which prevented them from benefiting from better education and opportunities in the labour market. What was being done to prevent that phenomenon? The impact of sexual education programmes needed to be evaluated, as well as the programmes to raise the awareness of boys about the issues of violence in schools. She also mentioned such areas of concern as sexually transmitted diseases among young women, early pregnancies and births. In that connection, she asked whether the decision of the Ministry of Education that prohibited expelling pregnant girls was still in force.
Ms. SCHOPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, commended the Government's numerous efforts to improve women's economic situation in Venezuela and focused on the women's economic activities in the private and public sectors, asking for statistics in that regard. The report referred to some 120,000 potential jobs that would be created as a result of the activities of the Women's Development Bank. She asked for details in that regard. Her other questions related to contributions to the social security system -- would homemakers and domestic workers be making such contributions, for instance? She also wanted to know if the notion of equal pay for equal work was being implemented in the country. Other questions related to "collective land titles" and the percentage of women owning land, as compared to men.
Ms. AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, commended the fact that education was a real priority in the Bolivarian approach. That was bound to benefit the women of Venezuela. Continuing studies for persons who had reached a certain level of education would ensure better opportunities for women, for example. Literacy campaigns and programmes to ensure that women did not drop out were of great importance, as well as measures to direct women towards non-traditional professions. She wanted to know what was being done in Venezuela in that regard. She was also interested in maternal mortality and pre-natal care in the country, as well as the number of illegal abortions and availability of contraceptives.
While acknowledging the Government's efforts to reduce poverty, Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, expressed concern about women's poverty. According to recent reports, some 61 per cent of the country's population (about 14.5 million people) still could not satisfy their basic nutritional needs, and 7.3 million people were in extreme poverty, of which 30 per cent or almost 2.5 million were children. The number of impoverished homes had grown from 60.3 per cent in 2000 to 67.5 per cent in 2003. Venezuela was the only country of the region where the rate of poverty was likely to grow and not fall. Venezuela's report before the country also mentioned the fact that, from 1995 to 2002, the number of female-headed households had grown by 14 per cent, reaching over 1.2 million. Taking into account all the steps already taken, had the Government been able to reverse the negative trends, especially in relation to women? What social protection mechanisms were in place for women?
A massive campaign to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS had been undertaken in the country, a member of the delegation said. Sexual education was mandatory and represented part of the core curriculum. More than 20,000 health committees were active in the country, providing education and primary care at the community level. Updated figures on maternal mortality showed some 60 cases per 100,000 live births, and the figures for pre-natal care amounted to 70 per cent in 2004. Training of personnel was being undertaken with the help of Cuba.
A recent report from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) had, indeed, shown a significant increase in poverty in Venezuela, another expert said. However, the country had protested such a conclusion. In 2005, the national statistical institute had worked on a new indicator of social well-being. The human development indicator index for the first few months of 2005 showed an increase between 1998 and 2001.
Continuing, she said the country's human development index had begun to grow in 2003, rising from 72 to 76, and increased to 80 in 2004. According to the National Institute of Statistics, unemployment had fallen between 1998 and 2001, increased in 2003, and begun falling again in first part of 2004. At 13.8 per cent, women's unemployment was higher than men's, which stood at 11 per cent.
She noted that three institutes -- the Bank of the Sovereign People, the Women's Development Bank and the Microfinance Bank -- were working to assist people in poverty. Women obtained a larger portion of credit from the Women's Development Bank than men, using this credit to benefit complete families.
Venezuela's population was primarily urban, but the rural population had become a priority in terms of poverty eradication and food security, and efforts were being made to develop agriculture. According to the Land Act, women involved in agriculture would have priority in obtaining land and for financing and training.
Regarding maternal mortality, another speaker said the main cause of such deaths was hypertension, maternal disorders, complications at birth, and abortions, which accounted for 12 per cent of maternal deaths. Family planning services were free, as were condoms and inter-uterine devices. The percentage of children suffering from malnutrition dropped from 5.8 in 1998 to 4.4 in 2001.
Delegates also observed that women's health projects at the regional level were financed by the Government, and that a large centre for disabled children had been opened. The Government had also developed a huge 141-bed hospital for children, which was staffed with a multidisciplinary team to provide care for the extremely poor.
Responding to another query, speakers said no complaints had been received about adolescent girls being expelled from school because of pregnancy. The country had initiated projects to ensure that both boys and girls stayed in school -- by providing a more integrated education, and introducing a feeding programme. They also noted that women now enjoyed a significant presence in many professions, often outnumbering men.
On health and indigenous people, a delegate observed that efforts were under way to develop a bilingual and cross-cultural approach to health. It had now set up clinics in all rural areas, including the first indigenous clinic, brought doctors to those areas, brought in boats for transport and achieved a 65 per cent immunization coverage.
In a follow-up question, Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, said that the creation of the Women's Development Bank was a commendable initiative, but late payments were impacting its liquidity and function. She asked what was being done to improve the Bank's functioning. She also asked for additional information on the distribution of land under the Land Act of 2001 and the number of complaints made in connection with wage discrimination.
The President of the Women's Development Bank replied that the institution was "a different bank", which did long-standing work in poor communities. Working from the point of view of gender perspective, it helped women learn about the economy, formulated investment projects for the poor and supported their enterprises. The idea was not to put women in debt, but to help them.
Another member of the delegation said that the difference in wages between men and women was a worldwide problem. Venezuela was no exception, especially in the private sector, where the average wages of women were about 30 per cent lower than those of men. Women also tended to work closer to home, work fewer hours than men and to be involved in part-time jobs, because they also had to take care of children. In cases of grievances, women could complain to labour inspectors.
On family matters, Ms. BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, noted that the minimum age for marriage was 14 for girls and 16 for boys. Under the Convention, men and women should marry at the same age. The Convention on the Rights of the Child stated that both boys and girls came of age at 18. Thus, for the country to be in compliance with both those instruments, the marriage age should be the same for men and women and it should be set at 18.
A country representative said that the Government would take that into account. Another member of the delegation added that women matured faster than men, and perhaps that had been taken into account when drafting the law, but the Government would certainly consider the experts' opinions.
In follow-up, ANAMAH TAN, expert from Singapore, said that measures against violence were often not translated into action. How did the State plan to enforce its laws on domestic violence and violence against women in general?
A member of the delegation said that the six-year anti-violence law focused on the victims of violence and covered various kinds of offences. For instance, one of its articles related to sexual harassment. The offences were punished by prison terms, and victims were to be compensated.
Ms. LEON, President of Venezuela's National Institute for Women, expressed gratitude for all of the Committee's comments and suggestions, which would be helpful in achieving gender equality in Venezuela, and showed a true interest in problems facing women. The delegation had enjoyed its time with the Committee, and would be sad to leave New York.
REINA ARRATIA, Director of International Relations of Venezuela's National Institute for Women, explained that no indigenous women had been able to attend the session because they had opted instead to attend the inauguration of Evo Morales as the first indigenous President of Bolivia. She also expressed gratitude for the constructive dialogue that had been held, which would assist Venezuela to take further steps to combating discrimination against women. For seven years, the country had been working on social, cultural and economic reforms to provide rights that the people, especially women, had long been denied.
SILVIA PIMENTEL, Committee member from Brazil, thanked the Venezuelan delegation for the open and frank way it had responded to the dialogue, which suggested the experience had been extremely constructive.
* *** *